The Power of Memoir –How to Write Your Healing Story, Excerpt

Chapter–Your Outer and Inner Critics

 The way to guard yourself against the assaults of the ‘‘outer critics’’—whether they are friends, family, or even overzealous writing teachers, is to create a sacred, safe space where you protect your writing from negative or critical feedback. If you don’t tell everyone you’re writing a memoir, they won’t know! If they ask what you are writing about you can give a vague answer. In some cases you may want to tell them you’re writing fiction. When people are ‘‘too inquisitive,’’ they usually have their own agenda, so be careful how much you reveal.

The combination of the outer critics and the inner critic can be challenging to combat, but if you use boundaries and tools to create safety and separation from those who would interfere, you will find your writing life easier. The inner critic, however, requires some special techniques.


If you have been shamed, threatened, or shunned by your family for telling the truth, or strongly criticized by teachers or professors about your writing, chances are these experiences have fed into creating a strong inner critic that gets in the way of writing freely.

The inner critic strives to enforce the old rules—stopping us from writing down what we really think or having us pull back from the ‘‘real’’ truth. Over time, we become all too familiar with this negative inner voice.

But if you are to be free to write your truths and your stories, you need to trade in this destructive inner voice for a positive one, and find an antidote to the old negative programs. This may mean more autonomy from the family, or from the old version of family you carry in your mind as you forge a new relationship with yourself. When my coaching clients tell me about their inner critics, it seems to have an intensity and power on a continuum from extremely negative to seductively soothing. The soothing voice whispers things like, ‘‘This is so hard on you. Why don’t you just stop; life will be easier. Don’t rock the boat.’’

 The inner critic is tenacious. I’ve never  met anyone who didn’t have an inner critic, and everyone wants to know how to get rid of it, but the surprising good and bad news is that the critical voice is a part of you. It reflects the natural aspects of being a vulnerable human being with doubts, fears, and worries.

 During my classes, I ask my students to speak the inner critic’s voice into the circle, but the same thing can be achieved by writing down the phrases and answering them. Silence feeds shame. The antidote to this is to state your truth out loud if you are in a group and in your journal as an ongoing exercise in conquering the inner critic.

Ways to Work with the Inner Critic

Write a dialogue with the inner critic. If it says, ‘‘You’re stupid, you can’t write,’’ ask, ‘‘Who taught me this? Where did this belief come from?’’

If it says, ‘‘You’re stupid. What makes you think you can write such a long work?’’ you answer back, ‘‘It’s true that I didn’t know everything, and I was bad in [fill in the blank with school skills], but I have written some good things before, and even [fill in the name of a friend, editor, teacher, family member] liked it.’’

If you suffered humiliation when you expressed yourself in school or in front of family, write down those phrases. For example,

‘‘You always got the worst grade in spelling, and you always failed your essays.’’

Answer back with new phrases that contradict the old voices.

‘‘This is not about getting good grades, and I am no longer fourteen years old. I have learned to write well enough, and besides, I can hire an editor if I need to. Just shut up and let me write.’’

For a few weeks, keep a list of the negative phrases in your head and decide how to counter each with positive, assertive statements. Some of the negative phrases will simply melt away after being acknowledged. See if you can label the origin of the phrase or voice.

If the voice says, ‘‘Don’t you dare tell,’’ respond with, ‘‘I’m not telling to embarrass you or to be mean. I just need to tell this story.’’

If the voice says, ‘‘You’re going to kill me . . . ’’ you can answer, ‘‘You’ve used guilt to control me for years, but this is my private project, and I must do it. I’m exercising my autonomy now!’’

Keep an ongoing list of the critic’s attempts to stop you, and keep answering it back. Then get on with your writing for that day.

Working actively with the inner critic, and sorting through the critical voices in your head is an important part of writing a memoir.

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